Sunday, November 26, 2006

I'm Seriously Disturbed

That is the conclusion my friends came to when they heard I got up at 05:30 in the morning in order to bake a sweet bread that I didn't intend to eat.

I love baking. Of all the culinary arts used on a regular basis by normal cooks (we aren't talking making sugar flowers, or fancy-dress food, just normal everyday stuff) baking is as close to making mudpies as you can get. Like a pot that starts out as an unprepossesing lump of clay, a loaf of bread starts as a pile of goo and ends up as the staff of life.

Having been completely successful with the Sullivan Street No-Knead bread recipe, I decided that I would try another variation, this time trying to speed it up a bit and making a sweeter dough. One of the reasons for this was a small plastic baggie of hawai'ij for baking that an Iraqi friend of mine gave me. Unlike regular hawai'ij, this smelled strongly of sweet spices, primarily star anise, with a background of cardamon, cloves and cinnamon. Christmas season coming up I have been thinking of panettone and stollen and I thought to myself "Aha! Why not a Middle Eastern version of Christmas Bread?" So that's what I did.

Christmas BethLehem (Christmas House Bread)

  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/4 tsp 5 spice powder
  • 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1/4 tsp mace (I ground my own)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
  • 3/4 cup mixed dried fruit finely chopped
    (I used crystallized ginger and chopped white raisins)
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil, 200 gr butter, softened

Put flour, sugar, salt, spices and yeast into a large bowl (I used the bowl from my KitchenAid mixer), mix well.

Pour milk onto fruit and warm until blood temperature. Pour into flour mixture and stir until incorporated. Mixture is fairly sticky and rough looking. Pour on oil and using a spatula try to get it all around the dough, underneath as well as on top - this will help to keep a skin from forming on dough while it rises. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and then cover the bowl with a tea towel. Place bowl in a warm spot where it can rise for at least 12 hours.

If you want to cut back on a few hours of rising time, put the bowl in a microwave together with a cup of very hot water. Keep changing the water in the cup when it gets cold. The dough will double in size and spring back when poked gently.

The next bit can be a bit messy if you don't have a mixer with a breadhook attachment - but it is mudpies in its purest form.

Take dough and punch it down. If using a mixer, put the speed on slow and beat for 2 minutes, then add 1/3 of the softened butter, beat until it is well incorporated - another 2 or 3 minutes, then add another 3rd of the butter and mix well again and then add the final third.

If you don't have a stand mixer, then take the dough and put it onto a very clean counter top. Pat it out until it is about 1/2 inch thick (this doesn't have to be accurate and you can smear the dough out if needs be). Smear about 1/3 of the butter onto the dough and then with a scraping/smearing/folding motion incorporate the butter into the dough. Do this twice more until the butter is well incorporated.

Work the dough very well, either in the mixer on low speed, or by hand. The dough will be very smooth and shiny and slippery from all of the butter.

In a deep cake tin (I used an Angel Food tin) spread the dough out evenly (use a buttered spatula or your buttered hands). Cover the dough with plastic wrap and the tin with a clean tea towel. Put this into a warm place and leave it sit for at least 8 hours, or until doubled (again, I speeded things up with the hot water in a cup trick).

Heat the oven to 400f with the rack on the second lowest level. Put the tin (without plastic wrap or tea towel) into the oven and turn the oven down to 375f. Bake approximately 35 minutes, until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

This is, like all yeast breads, best eaten warm.
But toasted the next day, it is still pretty darn good!


burekaboy — said...

i hope they appreciated and devoured it, crazy lady. ;-P

glad to know i wasn't the ONLY one thinking you seriously disturbed AT 5:30 A.M. and not intending to eat it! but then i have done the same with various projects.

it looks beautiful, miss aja. never have tried sweet hawaij. merry christmas [LOL], beyt lehem style, {groniot}.

aja said...

Hey BB,
They all thought me nuts - but they all had one or two, or even 3 slices... with smiles on!

Glad you appreciated the pronunciation of the bread name - happy channukah to you! 8^)

Anonymous said...

Hi there
It is Saturday December 2nd and we have not heard from you for the past 6 days ! and we are worried !
We miss your writing.
Please come back - twice daily, if possible.

Fondly - Jack B.

aja said...

Hey Jack B,
Thanks for the concern - I just had one of those weeks that was made worse by a headache that made thinking creatively impossible. My apologies for making you worry.
I can't promise twice daily... but I will do my best 8^)